There has been a changing of the guard in Connacht GAA, and no one knows that better than James Horan.
Horan, in his second spell at Mayo, suffered only his second ever defeat to Galway on Saturday, following last months FBD league shootout defeat. This is a sure sign there has been a turnaround in the West since the Ballintubber mans first stint in charge.
On Saturday last, Galway floated into McHale Park with the heavy breeze and soared out with a victory over Mayo. In doing so did they take the wind out of the Green and Reds’ sails going forwards?
There is no doubt that the conditions played in a part in the end result. A look at the scoring of both teams shooting into the Albany stand in either half gives weight to this hypothesis. In the second half, Galway notched 0-4, thanks to 4 frees from Shane Walsh.
Mayo meanwhile shot 0-3 in the first half, with Jason Doherty the provider of the trio. This was despite having a 10 minute spell where Galway were down to 13 men. Barry McHugh and Michael Daly both picked up black cards around the 16th minute.
This 10 minute spell was quite a curious examination of where Mayo are at right now under James Horan. McHugh and Daly made way, and the scoreline read Mayo 0-3, Galway 0-5. By the time McHugh and Daly made their way back onto the field, the scoreboard read Mayo 0-3, Galway 1-6. So, what exactly went wrong for Mayo?
It was expected that Mayo would take the initiative and push on with the 2 man advantage. It was necessary to push on from here. The conditions were hardly allowing David Clarke to take his kickouts correctly, never mind the impact it had on the Mayo shooting gallery. This was a crucial chance to wound Galway at their most vulnerable.
What followed was 10 minutes of dour football. Mayo passed from side to side, looking to get in behind the Galway defence who were “parking the bus” in soccer terms.
In contrast, it was in that 10 minute period that the depleted ranks of Galway made quality take its rightful place over quantity. They scored the goal which was, in terms of the scoreline, the difference between the two sides.
Galway were good value for their win no doubt. They won’t pay too much heed to accusations of time-wasting on the second half frees of Shane Walsh. They are an exciting team. Damien Comer is still to come back from an ankle injury. Mayo have not beaten them since 2016. As of now, it is not a bold claim to describe them as the current top dogs of Connacht.
It might seem harsh to judge Horan on his first outing with Galway in the league in his second term. After all, Mayo are joint second in Division 1. Horan has done well to blood desperately needed young talent into the squad such as Fionn McDonagh and Matthew Ruane, who have made themselves at home in the starting 15 recently. They had a much improved second half.
But that 10 minute spell, bad conditions or no, is an example of a time when Mayo must be more cutthroat for the season ahead. It is the sort of scenario they will not get away with squandering in the latter stages of an All Ireland Championship campaign.
Mayo: D. Clarke (GK); C. Barrett, B. Harrison, K. Higgins; L. Keegan, C. Boyle, S. Coen; M. Ruane (0-1), D. Vaughan (0-1); F. McDonagh, A. O’Shea, D. O’Connor (0-1); J. Durcan, D. Coen (0-1), J. Doherty (0-7, 6 frees)
Subs used: K. McLoughlin for J. Durcan, A. Moran (0-1) for S. Coen, B. Reape for F. McDonagh
Galway: R. Lavelle (GK); E. Kerin, SA. Ó Ceallaigh, D. Wynne; G O’Donnell, J. Daly, J. Heaney (0-1); T. Flynn, C. Duggan; M. Daly (0-1), D. Cummins (1-2), P. Cooke; B. McHugh, S. Walsh (0-5, 5 frees), A Ó Laoi (0-2)
Subs used: F Ó Laoi for T. Flynn, E. Brannigan for D. Cummins, G. Bradshaw for B. McHugh, P. Cunningham for A. Ó Laoi
Referee: Maurice Deegan